Who Watches The Watch?
En route to the theater Sunday afternoon I encountered a homeless man ranting on the street corner. This is not uncommon. It’s New York. Yet his presence there unwittingly thrust me into the center of a moral quandary — do I use the $20 in my wallet to see to the latest Ben Stiller comedy, The Watch, or do I get all New Testament here and donate all I have to this obviously destitute individual? Actually, let me amend that slightly. At the time all I thought was, “look at this crazy asshole.” But after subjecting myself to The Watch, I was forced to revisit the situation with added perspective. The $13.50 I quite literally threw away that afternoon could have been put to better use. I don’t entertain some chimerical notion that such a sum of money would set him on the right path in life. But at the very least, it would have been enough to buy him a cheap bottle of bourbon with which he could wash away a few hours of his life and stave off the inevitable anonymity of his passing. Does that sound cruel? I prefer to call it an ethical compromise.
You want real cruelty? I’ll give you cruel. Cruel is when a handful of creative minds and millions of dollars come together to create a film like The Watch; when integral aspects of a narrative such as character arc, conflict, and resolution are cast negligently aside in favor of unceasing profanity; when subjects like “magnum condoms” and “circle-jerk orgy” stand as the punchlines to jokes, and actors like Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill convene on a single screen to showcase their own tiresome schtick without pausing to consider that maybe the joke had passed them by long ago. It occurs when a comedic actor as gifted as Richard Ayoade is pointlessly thrown into all this wreckage and given nothing to do but smile sheepishly and be black. Yes, this is the face of true malevolence, this is the uncloaked wolf in sheep’s clothing, and the most despicable aspect of this cruel cosmic farce is the part where it’s packaged as a film with a narrative, retitled The Watch to avoid controversy and unleashed upon a dead-eyed audience like an IED on a group of unsuspecting soldiers.
The Watch is a domineering father hollowed out by his own failed dreams, projecting his desires upon his only son, finally breaking his spirit entirely with a look of wordless disappointment; it is a fickle lover whose cowardice and callous scorn keep secret her clandestine rendezvous with another man, making a naive cuckold of her significant other; a nightlight with faulty circuitry in the room of a nyctophobic child whose incessant nocturnal whimpering falls upon the deaf ears of fed-up parents; a zealous politician whose penchant for Orwellian doublespeak remains so resolute that he can only identify earnestness in the internal hypocrisy of his campaign. But mostly it is a major studio attempting to pass off a 90-minute dick joke as a big-budget, sci-fi comedy.
Disingenuous isn’t a strong enough adjective to describe it. This is deception personified; the gory-mouthed cackle of Lucifer himself. To watch The Watch is to gaze into the yawning pit of eternal damnation unblinkingly, to yield over to the blackness, allowing it to wash over your body and mind, poisoning it with sudden notions of penning your own screenplay in which dick and rape jokes flow like blood from a gaping wound. The Watch is the event horizon of human creativity, sucking everything inward to be crushed by the bloated mass of modern filmmaking, the new era in the studio system in which originality is stamped out in favor of a quick profit. If Ulysses were alive today, his journey home would not take him past the narrow straits between Scylla and Charybdis, fate would beset his path with a new mythological monstrosity, buffeting his arduous trek with the twin terrors of Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller, greedily gorging themselves on the souls of his crew. The siren song that lured the unwary from the safety of the ship would instead be the shrill echoing voice of Jonah Hill, regaling seamen with vacuous quips about exploding alien penises until, blinded by madness, they cast themselves willingly into the treacherous waves of an indignant sea, until all that remains is the ghostly laughter of marooned phantoms washing up along the lonesome shores decades later.
To paraphrase Juvenal, ‘who watches the Watch?’ Only those in love with death itself, those who have run out of alcohol and a reason to live, those wayward souls who hang their heads and shuffle through life without dreams or ambition, resigning themselves to never want more than to hear second-hand news from a friend of some illicit blowjob received in a public bathroom, to chortle jocularly — but with a hint of resigned regret — at what meaningless triumph they believe to exist in such undertakings, never once considering what unknown pleasures could be wrested from romantic perseverance to give way to the gentle caress of loving tenderness, those selfsame men locked in arrested development who need only hear the word “cum” to break down giggling like schoolchildren reading the term “sperm whale” in Moby-Dick. I’d like to think that as a society, we are better than that, but as I look at the box office returns from over the weekend and see that The Watch was able to rake in $13 million, I must admit that, no, we most certainly are not. Then I’m forced to permit myself a heavy sigh and remember that $13.50 of that belonged to me.